ASE NEO Committee work on NEO Deflection Workshop initiative
31 May 2006
In the February, 2006 meeting of the UN/COPUOS STSC the ASE intervention in the NEO agenda item stated, in its penultimate paragraph,
“To facilitate this process [the UN dealing with NEO deflection] the ASE, through its Committee on NEOs, proposes to convene a series of workshops, calling on experts from around the world with relevant experience, to address this challenge in detail and to prepare, for submission to COPUOS, a draft NEO deflection protocol for its consideration.”
This report provides an update on the work of ASE-NEO in organizing these workshops.
The challenge confronting the United Nations is posed by recent work being done around the world on near-Earth objects (NEOs), largely by astronomers, both professional and amateur, and also by others involved in space activity.
Two aspects of this work combine to place the UN in a position where it will likely be confronted in the next 15 years with making critical decisions about whether and what action should be taken to protect life on Earth from a potential NEO impact. Those two factors are the accelerating discovery of the population of NEOs (i.e. early warning) and the evolution of human capability to intervene in an anticipated impact by proactively deflecting the NEO (i.e. deflection capability).
Given early warning that an impact is expected, and knowing that a deflection capability exists to prevent this impact from occurring, humankind cannot avoid responsibility for the outcome of either action or inaction. Since the entire planet is subject to NEO impact and since the process of deflection intrinsically results in a temporary increase of risk to populations not otherwise at risk in the process of eliminating the risk to all, the United Nations will inevitably be called on to make decisions and evaluate trade-offs.
Being aware of and concerned with this issue the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) established a committee on NEOs and has committed to bring this issue to the attention of world leaders and institutions and to aid them in responding to the challenge. As part of that commitment ASE-NEO has committed to facilitate the UN response to this issue as reflected in the intervention sited above[i].
In order to provide the UN with a specific proposal on which to begin its deliberation ASE-NEO has chosen to bring together a small international group of pre-eminent and experienced experts, in a workshop setting, to produce a draft United Nations Protocol on NEO Deflection. These workshops (nominally four) will be conducted over a period of two years to develop and draft this proposed document which will be introduced via Action Team 14 (AT-14 NEO) of UN/COPUOS/STSC in its 2009 session.
The Committee has selected, in consultation with candidate participants, the dates of 9 – 12 May, 2007 for its first workshop, with the second tentatively planned for early October 2007. The Committee is currently in the process of final selection of the venue for these first two workshops and expects to announce the specific sites prior to the end of June 2006.
A candidate participant pool of 20 is desired of which 10 have currently been identified and contacted. The participants will include former UN diplomats, ambassadors, international law experts, national space program leaders, risk management specialists and re-insurance executives, among others.
An overall timeline for the four workshops and the detailed agenda for the first workshop are currently in development. The first workshop will be largely devoted to detailed background briefings on the technical issues, an introduction to the decision tree likely to be faced, and a further outline of the work schedule to be addressed in subsequent meetings.
The ASE-NEO is currently raising private funding to support the work of the Committee. It is anticipated that approximately $250-300K will be needed to support the work overall, of which the first $35K has been raised. Funds are actively being sought from foundations, public institutions and private sources and success in meeting the financial needs is anticipated
Given its official observer status at UN/COPUOS and its membership on AT-14 the Committee plans to provide periodic updates on its progress to the COPUOS delegates via the Action Team. In addition the Chairman of AT-14 will represent COPUOS as an observer at the workshops.
While no specific details are yet available it is anticipated that a summary report will be issued and distributed following each of the workshops.
Russell L. Schweickart
Chairman, ASE-NEO Committee
[i] See http://www.space-explorers.org/committees/NEO/neo.html for additional information on ASE-NEO and the papers and presentations made to UN/COPUOS.